The Promises of God

As Israel was hauled off into captivity by the iron-grip of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 BC, they wondered what had happened to God’s promises of protection. They settled into this foreign land where people spoke a language they didn’t understand, and worshiped gods Israel knew nothing about. What happened to all God had said over the years about His faithfulness to them?

Before the first wave of people had even left for Babylon, God revealed through Jeremiah that their stay would last 70 years (see Jer.25:11). Sometime close to the end of the captivity, Daniel reminded them of Jeremiah’s record of God’s promise about the 70 years. Somehow, in all their grumbling, the people had forgotten what the Lord had clearly said.

But the Lord hadn’t forgotten. Ezra recorded that when the 70th year came, the new king Cyrus was providentially motivated by God to write an official decree releasing all Israelites who wanted to return to Jerusalem. It’s all laid out in Ezra 1:1-4. Once that 70th year arrived, it was like an alarm clock going off – it was time to go home! What’s even more interesting is that 250 years before, Isaiah predicted that the liberator’s name would be “Cyrus” (see Isaiah 44:28). Can you imagine that? Two centuries before he lived, God clearly recorded what his actual name would be!

The entire saga of Israel’s trials and release from Babylon demonstrates the iron-clad promises of God. He always fulfils what He says He’s going to do. We live in a world that constantly breaks its promises, but that should never weaken our trust in a God who never breaks His.

We are saved by God’s promise (Gal.3:29), and protected by a promise (1 Peter 1:5). If God fulfilled His promises in such a dramatic way to Israel, you can count on Him doing the same for you.

– Tim Johnson

Possessing Our Possessions

The words in our title come from Obadiah 17. It was a time of oppression and trouble for Israel. Edom, her most persistent enemy, possessed their land. Therefore, God promised to bring Edom low, and in that day Israel would have their land restored. They would possess their possessions.

Here is an important lesson. It is possible to have possessions we haven’t fully possessed. Matthew Arnold said, “We see all sights from pole to pole. We nod and beck and bustle by and never once possess our souls before we die.”

Men may own but never truly possess in true spiritual and inward enjoyment. One meaning of the word possess in our text is enjoy. I’m sure we’ve all known Christians who don’t seem to take the time to enjoy the faith, to be happy with the church, and to contemplate the great spiritual blessings given to us by a resurrected Savior.

There was a lady once who walked into a book store. She told the clerk she wanted three yards of books with brown bindings to match the décor of her living room. The books became hers but did she really possess them?

A poet once said to his generation, “What you have inherited from your fathers earn over again for yourselves, or it will not be yours.” Our Father has given us a name. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

It’s not enough to just wear the name. We must possess it.

– David and Tim Johnson

World’s Greatest Disaster

One of the greatest tragedies in human history was the Black Plague in Europe. Over a 7-year period (1346-1353), over 75-200 million people died. The population of Europe was pretty well cut in half and would not fully recover for 300 years. As the crisis accelerated, germs spread quickly because the dead could not be buried quickly enough. Since no one knew the source of the disease, physicians of the time offered useless treatments. However, religious people were familiar with the instructions in the Law of Moses regarding quarantine and hygiene when leprosy was present, and how to deal with the dead. Church leaders applied these principles to the plague and leprosy, and the spread of disease was halted in many communities. Millions of lives were saved.

While reading ahead for our Sunday morning adult study of the Book of Numbers, I was reminded of the Law’s instructions about hygiene. For example, in 19:14-16 it directs, “This is the law when a man dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean for seven days. And every open vessel which has no covering tied down on it, shall be unclean. Also, anyone who in the open field touches one who has been slain with a sword or who has died naturally, or a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days.” The purpose of these instructions is obviously to prevent the spread of disease and germs, although ancient Jews could not understand the medical details as we can today.

That such medical wisdom was being practiced by ancient Israel a full 2800 years before the devastation of the great plagues of medieval Europe is surely amazing. The most advanced societies of the time were nowhere close to practicing Israel’s ways of hygiene and seclusion. No scientific experimentation discovered these principles; it originated in the inspired word of God.

This is one more clear piece of evidence that the Bible is indeed a book given to man by God Himself.

– Tim Johnson

The Sea of Glass

Frightful things have confronted the world recently, highlighted by the violence in France and Belgium. Terrorism has people afraid of what might happen next.

After all the violence that accompanied the exodus of Israel from Egypt, God reassured Moses that there is peace. One day he called 74 people up into Mt. Sinai, including Moses. There they saw an appearance of God that was marvellous. See Exodus 24:9-10. “Under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” The ancients were used to a world of rocks, dust and mud. A sapphire pavement would have been spectacular.

There’s a similar description in Rev.4:6, where John spoke of God in heaven. There he saw “a sea of glass like crystal” surrounding the throne. Later, in Rev.15:2, victorious martyrs stood “on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

What can we learn from such a splendid description? In the book of Revelation the enemy of the church arises out of “the sea” (13:1). Later, the great harlot – representing Rome – sits on her own throne “above the waters.” John explained, “the waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.” (v15) In the world there is turmoil, like the crashing, swirling sea. Nations and rulers often stir things up and there is unrest and violence. But with God there is only peace and calm, like a sea of glass. He is in control, even when the world seems more like a raging sea.

We have to live in a world that is constantly in turmoil, and often frightful. But we can have a connection with heaven where all is calm. In Jesus Christ we can have peace – come what may. Next time you feel fear, picture yourself standing before God’s throne surrounded by a sea of glass.

– Tim Johnson

The Irony of God

Irony often pertains to a sense of humor, but often it’s deadly serious. So it is with God. Read on.

When the spies returned and gave their cowardly report to Israel about the strength of their enemies, everyone cried out against Moses and God. They said they would all die if they invaded the promised land, and their children would become “plunder” (Num.14:1-3). God was listening!

They forgot God’s constant care over their 40-year desert journey and convinced themselves that all was lost. They let their human hearts deceive them. We’re told in Jeremiah 17:9-10 that “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” God warned in Proverbs 4:23 that each of us needs to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the springs of life.” The human heart can be a wonderful thing, but we can let it become sour and corrupt.

This is where God’s irony comes in. When our hearts lead us away, God may well deal with us in surprising ways. Israel cried out that their children would become plunder in the promised land. God replied, “Your little ones who you said would become a prey…shall enter there, and I will give it to them, and they shall possess it” (Deut.1:39). God always judges righteously, and with surprising effects.

Back in Jeremiah’s passage, God continued, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”

Guard your heart and keep it pure, for God searches what’s inside and deals with us appropriately. Israel didn’t, and suffered His precise and ironic judgment. Let that never happen to you.

– Tim Johnson